A sun shower moved through late yesterday afternoon. Silver drops fell quickly through the backyard sky, only to disappear from sight.
From “The Land of Many Hills” to the Texas Hill Country
A sun shower moved through late yesterday afternoon. Silver drops fell quickly through the backyard sky, only to disappear from sight.
Around the time MTV was not a new thing anymore and critics could look back at its effect on culture, my brother told me that he’d heard one person remark how it used to be that we’d hear a song on the radio and say to a friend next to us, “Remember where we were when we first heard that?!” A story would ensue about the beach, or a school dance, or making out in someone’s bedroom. A memory rehearsed. With MTV, the memory — sometimes voiced and sometimes not — was more along the lines of, “I remember that music video.” And that would be the end of that. “I” rather than “we.” An entree designed for focused consumption rather than a cocktail adding to the mood between two or more people.
I entered Mary’s Tacos on Broadway the other day and heard Juanes’s Mala Gente on the radio. (Of course, I didn’t know the song at first, but I surreptitiously Shazam’ed it while waiting for my order.) Of note, when one Googles “Juanes,” whose real name is Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez (therefore, first name JUAN + first syllable of ESteban), one learns that this Columbian singer lived through the Medellín Cartel killing family members and friends. I can respect music coming from that human experience. Not surprisingly, the video, shown here, affords the frontman an off-camera tryst with a fuchsia-haired vixen. And a crowd at his performance clapping in unison. And these images are what are remembered.
But what I remembered the other day was that half of Mary’s Tacos was cordoned off to the right while the floor was being swept and wet-mopped; that the cashier took my order almost immediately because it was 10:30am and only one customer was ahead of me; that my order came quickly and I took the beige-yellow bag and said “gracias.” I remembered that the staff had been working since the small single digits of that morning and would be closing at 1:30pm. I remembered that we have three main breakfast taco places in Kerrville — Rita’s, Mary’s and Alex Tacos — but that my favorites are Mary’s “Sean” taco and Rita’s “Rita” taco con nopalitos.
And so I’ve played Mala Gente multiple times while driving Carter’s truck — the vehicle without A/C, with the windows rolled down — and felt my feet finding purchase on the Texas dirt.
“HOLLYWOOD” hangs high on the hill over its namesake subsection of Los Angeles to remind any unaware driver headed north on “the 101” where they are.
If you’re coming over the hill on Sidney Baker just past Rio Robles Mobile Home and RV Park, or on Water Street passing Mamacita’s to your right and forget where you are, fear not. You are in “WELLS FARGO.”
The bank has two of the most visible signs in Kerrville, after the symbolic “sign” of the hollow cross overlooking Atkisson Chevrolet, Lowe’s and I-10 (as well as both of the Wells Fargos themselves).
In New York, Trinity Church’s spire was the first architectural detail to define the manmade skyline until the Woolworth Building and a few others came along. So instead of a collection plate with scattered five and ten cents, a store could conveniently collect those. And you’d walk out the door with more stuff than you came in with. At least, that was the prevailing thought.
Today, you can look across from Manhattan to Brooklyn from some vantage points and still see multiple spires. They are nestled in neighborhoods that still have corner grocery stores selling Lotto tickets, cigarettes, and pint-sized whiskey bottles that will fit nicely in a hip pocket. Aside from those, there are countless “storefront churches” that have no spires, sell no goods, yet offer priceless treasure within their doors.
We keep our high-protein, low-fat goodies at Broadway Bank on Main between Clay and Quinlan where, every time you enter, you are greeted by name by a teller or someone behind a desk. There is no bulletproof glass. (There isn’t at Wells Fargo either, by the way.) Karen had an art show last year, and in our mailbox at home was a hand-written card from someone at the bank with the newspaper clipping covering the show. We had missed seeing that story altogether.
I’m in PAX, staring out the copious front windows and across Earl Garrett Street at the SCHREINER sign on its eponymous building. A local entrepreneur (female, I might add, importantly) has created a mash-up of 1950s and 21st Century Kerrville and made it work. As the owner of Pint & Plow likes to say, “Kerrville is the new Kerrville.”
The Downtown Farmers Market in front of the historic A.C. Schreiner home happens later this afternoon. Its maroon banners — best seen while biking or walking — hang from a few lampposts along Water between Sidney Baker and Quinlan. Usually they’ll have live music, beer, a few crafts and a lot of locally-sourced food, including a hummus made in Boerne that “will last a few weeks if you don’t double dip,” the vendor told me.
And he was right.
She did something you just don’t do. Having inserted herself into the middle seat on this morning’s first flight from San Antonio to Dallas, she crossed her thick legs “man style,” her shoe’s black plastic heel pointing toward and extending at least three inches into my aisle seat air space.
She was obviously uncomfortable. She exhaled with frustration.
I could play out a couple scenes in my mind that would stay there:
Halfway through the flight: Ma’am, could you please move your foot? It’s, like, sticking into my … space. I would never say this. No one does that either.
Or I could take the passive aggressive route: pretend to fall asleep after the flight takes off and make my right leg “twitch” to the right, launching her black shoe toward the man smugly sitting in his window seat, head against the thin, beige window shade.
“Would you be more comfortable in an aisle seat?” I asked her instead, quite politely, after this mental one-act had seen the heavy curtain fall.
“Oh. That would be wonderful.”
We’d already heard the flight attendant warning to buckle up and begin to pay attention, but we quickly changed seats and she, having settled in and now exhaling with relief, started to talk.
“We’re going to the big bad airport,” with a slight smile. Meaning DFW. Her eyes had a sparkle through her silver-rimmed glasses.
She’d never been to Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport — purported to be larger than the entire state of Rhode Island or, at least, “dadgum big” — and was en route from Las Vegas–where, no doubt from her alcohol reek, she’d been within the last 18 hours–through San Antonio–“I like that airport”–to New Orleans. She didn’t say this last city like a resident. Her skin tone, her long and natural-gray hair, and facial structure told me she might be at least partly Native American.
As I tried to snooze during the flight — using my Middle-Seat Sleep Pretzel Formation (arms crossed and locked to avoid unfolding; ankles crossed at floor so knees don’t stray during REM cycle) — the arm of the man to the right kept rubbing my arm and the woman’s knee at one point firmly bumped my left one. This latter event may have happened when I was semi-conscious and my Pretzel somehow started to unravel.
On the connecting flight, and having bought both segments on “Basic Economy,” which requires that one relinquish all rights, even that of screaming when feeling claustrophobic (well, that’s probably the rule in First Class, too), this time I was assigned to a middle seat. That’s what “Basic Economy” means: “basically, you always get a middle seat.”
Having been placed here by American Airlines, I will exercise my Middle Seat Advanced Armrest Arithmetic.
To wit: there are four armrests for three passengers. Since each person technically gets 1.334 armrests to come out perfectly even, and since it would be impossible to divide the armrests so, my solution is that the aisle and window passenger customers get their full armrest and the middle passenger gets the two middle ones. This is only fair, and the aisle passenger, an older but still quite muscular gentleman, who is now casually fighting me for it by adjusting his hearing aids while his elbow sneakily scopes out space, will lose.
I can assure you.
Postscript: he did not lose, and neither did I. I ended up not being able to work on my laptop because, in case you don’t know, to do computer work you must have room to move all ten fingers, which you can’t do in a middle seat. So I spoke a little with him, and a little with the lady to my left, and then when they spoke to each other, I read a book. Which required only one hand.
I told her that this was the first time I could recall feeling sad when the opposite team’s student body cheered after scoring, in a town where I didn’t go to high school.
But we won.
Crossing the Loop 534 bridge from Memorial Boulevard to Bandera Highway, I glanced left, or south, long enough to see that the Guadalupe at Kerrville-Schreiner Park was unmarked by wind or creature.
I was driving Carter’s Ford F-150 truck, with no air conditioning, so I had the driver’s window down all the way and the triangular “quarter-glass” turned inward, directing the hot Hill Country air toward my chest.
Today’s paddle-boarding session would be different. I usually struggled a bit going downriver, typically against a slight breeze, and tolerating the corruption of ripples along the surface. They disturbed by feng shui. And, for my return to the take-out ramp, I would have the wind at my back, which always made me feel I’d accomplished less during the second half of my session than during the first.
Fishermen would have their lines out, waiting and jawing. Kayakers and other SUP boarders would be rounding the small island near the dam or paddling near the ramp. Cheerful children might be swimming in small groups, their appropriate shrieks defining a weekend afternoon. Perhaps a jet-ski, like last week, would growl at the rest of us as it spat its way quickly away.
But today would be different.
I would get home, quickly undress and throw on my swim trunks, bungie the board into the back of Carter’s truck and head the two miles back to the river. I’d park with only one other vehicle in the lot — one was exiting and the passenger lifted his chin at me in recognition of my imminent joy — and after locking my wallet and phone in the truck and making sure — making SURE, MAKING SURE, I had the keys in my zipper pocket — I’d be puncturing the cellophane surface of the water with my plastic paddle blade.
No others: no paddlers, no jet-skis, no fishermen. Not even ducks. Perhaps a turtle here or there which left only a shimmering imperfect circle from its dive to the river bottom when it felt me coming.
I would stroke hard downriver, jump off the board to get refreshed, then practice some tight turns and fall off, and then stroke hard back upriver, accomplishing just what I did the first half.
And so it was.
Though my office at the moment (3:22pm) is PAX Coffee & Goods, with the photo of Johnny Cash strolling into Folsom Prison in 1968 facing me, for my 1:30pm call with our consultant I chose the luxury of sitting in the Dallas Daughtry Memorial Pavilion.
So that you don’t have to Google him, Mr. Daughtry was a local, died relatively young (57) from cancer, and one of the things his obituary noted stood out: “…he loved God by loving people: his family, employees, and countless people who thought of him as their best friend.” If more creatures on Earth than your dog counts you as their best friend, you’ve done something both rare and eternal. Apparently, Mr. Daughtry found the key to living successfully.
But this pavilion was my office for an hour-long phone call, and a pleasant, if warming, hour it was.
Below me, a group of five people waded across from the town side of the river to the park side, carrying red 5-gallon buckets. Downstream, a man kicked water at his black dog, which each time whirled delightfully around in a circle in mid-air. Just north of the dam, two people swam near the park shore. This is Tuesday, midday, in September, during school hours, downtown. Swimming at midday sounds awfully good to me.
When taking a picture of these trail maps, I failed at the time to note the name of one in particular that I find enticing: The Goodnight-Loving Trail. It sounds a bit like “Lovers Lane,” right? Not really. “Spanning” from Texas to Wyoming — and you know whenever the Lone Star State is included in a “span,” the distance is automatically doubled — the trail was blazed by Charles Goodnight (a former Ranger) and Oliver Loving (a cowboy) in the 1860s, before names like “Goodnight” or “Oliver” would curry little street cred in this “dangerous Indian territory.” (I can imagine “Goodnight” being a nickname for a Western gunslinger. E.g. Jesse ‘Goodnight’ Mcgillicuddy. “My apologies for the spill, Mr. Mcgillicuddy, sir, your next whiskey’s on me.”)
And while we’re on the subject of “Indians” — also known as people whose forebears were here “umpteen generations” before them and not just “3” or “5” or “10” generations before — there’s a special posture Texans have with this group of fellow humans. There seems to be a yoked disregard and deep respect. A disregard that, by golly, we’re going to take this land and make our shingles (as they did in Kerrville) or raise our cattle (everywhere else) and
shoot you right between the eyes if we need to. But a respect that honors the way of life, the art, the humanity, the “co-existingness” — as contradictory as that sounds — of the indigenous peoples. Many Texans still live close to the land and, living so, they regard the land itself, animals, and other people differently than does the average city dweller who chooses his meat and people off the shelf and as easily discards them into the waste bin when no longer needed. The Dutch took “Mannahatta” island from the Lenape Indians and, as far as I know, there’s not a Dutch or English descendant in New York City who doesn’t think that Lenape is a mispronounced coffee drink.
There’s an ecology in Texas, almost a closed and sustainable ecosystem, that eludes me.
I may understand it in time.
I won’t understand why Texans drink Big Red. Nasty stuff.
I hope we can agree on that.
I’d been hunting this one fly for at least the last day or more.
I thought I had a foolproof way to kill it — clapping my hands over its head while it was landed, because I’d heard they move backward and up when sensing wind, and this way, as soon as its dainty God-given wings felt the wind and it alighted with superfly speed, I’d be applauding it to death — yet apparently “foolproof” is not proof for some of us.
Today it landed on my water cup as I ate my lunch at my desk. I tried clapping it to death. No go.
It landed on my guacamole. Clapped my hands. No go.
Baked beans. Clapped. No go.
I paused. I considered.
“What if…” I started to ask myself. “…what if I need to treat this creature as one of God’s little animals…what if I need to practice a little compassion and empathy and understanding? What if it needed to eat for some greater purpose of which I was unaware?”
I caught myself. It’s not like it had a little Fly Family to feed back home. It’s not like this was a deer nibbling at some flowers I’d planted out back and then going to feed its fawn. Not even like a tiger killing one of my goats (if I had one) and feeding its cubs with my livestock. No. There was no deer or tiger sitting on the edge of my cup rubbing together its hooves or paws. It was a lonesome fly rubbing its apparently fingerless, toe-less, clawless, stick-figure front legs together — have you ever noticed how utterly devoid of detail flies’ legs are and how surprisingly horrifying that can be to contemplate? — wiping into my food and drink whatever it had landed on in the previous 24 hours.
It was dirty, and it was in this for itself. It had been flying around the living room, and specifically around my eating and drinking and working and existing area, and I had had enough. It had come down to this: who was going to eat my lunch? Compassion evaporated like August sweat on Texas asphalt.
One last clap of the hands, well-timed and uncaring of the consequences to my lunchtime peace, and the deed was done. It was temporarily stunned, having fallen to the side of my spoon (see arrow to right of spoon indicating initial impact), and then it climbed into the bowl of the spoon and up the neck and handle, like a prisoner walking the plank. (As you know now, I relished this, having taken the time to capture the moment for you to see.) Just after that second photo, it fell from the handle to the side of my bowl, and I took my napkin and ended it in the kill zone (see square with an X).
I realize this was a particularly violent post.
But with a fresh spoon, the rest of the baked beans sure did taste good.
Yes, it was just like Mom and I used to make for Dad.
Though without their good company.
Serious as a prison cell — which is what I think of when I look at the photo on the package — while it didn’t get done last night (relying on the passive voice to blame-shift) I’m ready to make this icebox cake today and then do my time waiting.
More to come…